Zero carbon – a challenge to us all

Hort Talk
with Mike Chapman
HorticultureNZ CEO

The Carbon Zero Bill was introduced into Parliament on May 8, 2019. This Bill if made law will commit New Zealand to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions particularly carbon dioxide; ensuring we act in a way that reduces our impact on the climate; and increase our environmental resilience.

The Bill’s targets are ambitious with the aim being to keep New Zealand within the 1.5 degree Celsius limit for global warming. For pastoral farming the most controversial provision is the Bill’s target for a 10 per cent reduction in biological methane emissions by 2030, and for a provisional reduction ranging from 24 per cent to 47 per cent by 2050. The issue here is reaching 10 per cent by 2030 will be difficult enough, but further reductions will only be possible with technological advancements or destocking.

Lower emissions fertiliser

The main issue facing horticulture is emissions from the use of fertiliser. Today the only effective control mechanism is to use less fertiliser and that means less production. This is not a formula that can be used. Guidance on how best to efficiently use fertiliser is the key to meeting those targets. A certain amount can be achieved by good management and that is already being worked on. The key to achieving these targets is an exponential increase in research and development to find technological solutions such as the development of lower emissions fertiliser. We also believe it is important to manage nitrous oxide, one of the long-lived gases, in two ways: one programme managing biological emissions and the other programme managing emission from fertiliser use.

For fertiliser emissions this will allow a research-backed, targeted programme that can achieve the targets provided the research is adequately funded, it is readily adoptable by growers and, to achieve the targets, a comprehensive technical transfer programme is run for growers.

Land use

Land use is also a vital component to meeting these targets. If the high quality soils are used for growing our fruit and vegetables, there is a need for less fertiliser. So therefore regional and central government planning to enable growing to be done on the most climate change beneficial soils in NZ needs to be addressed as part of the comprehensive package to enable us to meet these targets. In addition, the programme needs to recognise sequestration from vegetation on the farm. There needs to be recognition that all forms of vegetation are effective for sequestration not just trees over a certain arbitrary height. The many hectares of vines and smaller fruit trees are already working to reach the targets and their efforts need to be recognised.

It’s not just on-farm that changes need to be made. The transport infrastructure also has a major negative impact on the Bill’s targets. We need to re-organise the way we move food and goods around the country. So this means we should be planning to grow our fruit and vegetables across the country in as many locations as possible. In many areas this will require water storage to enable growing and it will also require recognition that glass house operations will need to be positively accounted for New Zealand-wide.

The challenge

The targets are a first step. Reaching those targets is the real challenge. I do not believe that these targets can be achieved without a very active government and industry partnership founded on extensive research backed up by a technical transfer programme to enable growers to adopt the outcomes of the research. I do not support the imposition of punitive taxes and penalties as the way in which to achieve these targets as they will engender resentment and endanger the country’s ability to meet the targets. This has to be a proactive and joint approach to reaching solutions. So this is not only a challenge to the people of New Zealand, industry, the primary sector but also a challenge to the Government: business as usual will not let us collectively meet the targets.


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